Transportation Planning Casebook/COVID-19 and Popup Cycleways and Road Space Reallocation

With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing has become an importance measure to protect human safety and health, thus an emerging priority of city planners has been to ensure road infrastructure is allocated in a way that helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 and complies with social distancing guidelines. Across the world, many regions have been investigating ways to reallocate roads such as widening the space for pedestrian activities.

On the other hand, cycleways were already a common road re-allocation practice globally, which are usually distributed in a way that are physically segregated from motor vehicles and would not limit cars to one travel direction. Despite that there are already initiatives and policies to implement this infrastructure, the COVID-19 pandemic drove the fast provision of new bike infrastructure such as pop-up cycleways across the world.[1]


Much of town planning in history has been dictated by private automobiles where roads are allocated for street parking and access to sites/buildings within city centres. Due to pressure for climate change and increasing liveability, many cities such as Oslo and Madrid have reduced traffic flow in city centres and alter street parking for outdoor dining.

As the COVID-19 pandemic (the pandemic) occurred, people are working from home and travelling less in general, resulting in significant reduction of traffic flow from private cars and the public transport systems. Public transport ridership was less than 25% in the months after lockdown.[2] This has accelerated the trend of taking the roads back for the people. State and local agencies realised the underutilisation of roadways and are providing innovative solutions for pop-ups and road space reallocation.

This case study begins with the footpath widening, which was extensively done by the United Kingdom and Ireland. This paper also introduces pop-up cycleways (or pop-up bike/cycle lanes), initiated by the NSW government in July 2020 who added $1.1 billion AUD committed for walkway and cycleway programs in the 2021-2022 state budget.[3] The research would be expanded to various local and international examples and the effectiveness of various campaigns and the longevity of their existence will be discussed. Existing examples involve shutting down part of existing streets car playgrounds and recreational areas for greenery as shown in Figure 1. Figure 2 shows an initiative by the City of Sydney to convert part of major roads to dedicated pop-up cycleways.

List of ActorsEdit

The following depicts the list of actors and stakeholders affected by various COVID 19 space reallocation programs.

Actors Stakeholder Involvment
Federal Government As light vehicle movements account for 10% of Australia's total emissions.[4] Reduced city traffic flow and transition to bicycle as inner city transport would assist in achieving net neutral green gas emission by 2050 as per the Paris agreement.[5]
State Government Similar to congestion charge in London and 'car free' scheme in Oslo. Much of planning and implementation either through regulation or funding for projects has to be realised by state governments. Specifically Transport NSW for the case of Sydney has allocated $1.1 billion in the 2021-22 state budget for walkway and cycleway programs. With the vision of 'Walking and cycling for commuting and short trips relieve pressure on our roads and public transport networks, and are part of a healthy lifestyle for our communities'.[6]
Commuters In NSW over a million people travel via bicycles every week. Ease of access and safety are the top priority for riders. As observed in the Sydney CBD there are dedicated cycleways, furthermore most modern office buildings are not equipped with end of trip services with secure bicycle lockers and showers to encourage this form of transport. In more suburban area, it is common for commuters to ride to the nearest train stations before travelling to the CBD and transport NSW have had initiatives to support that.
Citizens As noise and air pollution have long been issues in the inner city. For its citizens, reduced light vehicle traffic enhances its liveability. However, for the initial roll out of the dedicated cycleway, it was more difficult for residents to find street parking and in many cases accidents occur as they entered private parking and cyclist were unaware that cars were on the kerb.
Business Owners Specifically for the hospitality industry would benefit from better customer experience. Could be adversely affected by difficulty in deliveries and customer access.
Bike Providers Many bicycle share ride companies have enter the industry with guidelines and regulations from the state government.
Thinktanks In many instances, governmental agencies are actively sourcing ideas for transformation of public spaces for alternate use. The York, Clarence, Kent (YCK laneway) project is a result of that to boost hospitality businesses.[7] Hosting block parties/ events to showcase smaller breweries and restaurants.


Time Event Discription
1920 Post WWII boom in private automobile. This facilitated suburbanisation allowing workers to move away from slump in the city centres.
1950 Urban planning for workers to drive to city centres, roads with increases emphasis on street parking and reduced congestions. Cycle lanes, walkways, recreational spaces become smaller.
1960 Urban planning increasing aimed at reducing carbon emissions and increase urban livability. Cities such as Oslo and Madrid have drastic regulation to reduce light vehicle traffic within city centres.
2019 COVID 19 pandemic accelerates development in this area. Providing budget and framework in this space.
2019- Many popup projects to be considered including the popup cycleway and road reallocation programs by Transport NSW.

These are the completed projects thus far: [8]

Sydney Park Road, Erskineville Opened 3 July 2020
Henderson Road, Erskineville Opened 8 July 2020
Pitt Street, Sydney CBD Opened 23 July 2020
Dunning Avenue, Rosebery Opened 7 August 2020
Moore Park Road, Moore Park Opened 11 August 2020
Pyrmont Bridge Road, Pyrmont Opened 21 September 2020


Figure 2 is a map of where pop-up cycleways have appeared around the world. Figure 3 shows the already existing cycleways in London, with the green showing streets that are wide enough to accommodate for cycleways. If implemented, this would have had an eight-fold increase on the number of protected cycleways that are there. In addition, Figure 5a and 5b depict the locations of new pop-up cycleways in Sydney, with some changes made about the roads indicated, i.e., changes in speed limits.

Policy IssuesEdit

Footpath WideningEdit

Before COVID-19, footpath widening scheme has long been proposed and implemented in many global metropolises to provide additional space for pedestrian circulation and streetscape enhancement. Examples can be seen in many improvement plans for business intensive areas. The Hong Kong Transport Department had announced a series of road reallocation plans to improve the overall pedestrian environment in several areas since 2000. Among the plan, footpath widening in the central business district has proven to be successful and satisfactory to the public, according to the government consultation report.[9]

Necessity for Policy InterventionEdit

With the pandemic sweeping the world, soon the government from most of the countries realised a strict lockdown is required to stop the virus spreading to protect its people. But after that, as the situation slowly gets better, cities start to reopen and problems arise: people recognise the importance of following social distancing guidelines, but some of the footpaths in busy areas are quite narrow and many cafés and restaurants cannot provide enough space for outdoor dining areas. Meanwhile, more and more people choose to work or study from distance, which leads to a decreased amount of vehicular travel, therefore the road space has not been utilised efficiently. Apart from the rising safety concern and changed travel pattern and lifestyle, many street business entities such as restaurants, bars and cafés have also expressed strong desire to recover due to their critical economic status. And since indoor dining tables are restricted, the main challenge for those traders is to find new ways to seat patrons.

The above issues have soon been recognised, as well as the necessity for policy intervention to improve the road space allocation.

Policy MakingEdit

In May 2020, the Irish National Transport Authority informed the local authorities to provide technical and financial support to review their street layout, and find opportunities to conduct footpath widening. And since such measures are required urgently, the state agency would grant funding to those proposals quickly.[10]

In Sep 2020, the Sheffield city council announced their temporary changes to footpaths and highways. The main targeted area is the city centre, as shown in Figure 7, where vehicle lanes have been used as new footway and shared zones between pedestrians and cyclists. Also, new crossing ramps and planter boxes were installed to guide walkers.[11]

In May 2020, the Sydney planning minister announced a new $15 million fund to help NSW councils for public space reallocation, after observing a large number of people exercising outdoors during the pandemic. The increased risk of spreading the virus also exposed the long standing limitation of historical urban design. The reallocation project is aimed to redesign future precinct, parks and public spaces with wider footpaths and separated cycleways. It is important to note that this policy does not provide a temporary measurement to deal with COVID-19, but a long term project aiming to answer the public demand for more public spaces.[12]

In May 2020, the Manchester city council also announced a series of measures to widen the footpath for social distancing. The council focused on walking and mass transit which is believed to have the most impact on economic recovery. Extended platforms for bus stops were introduced to provide more room for passengers, also space was widened for public transport hubs and employment hot zones. As to the funding, the British government announced £250 million for active travel, the possible fund of £15.8m for Greater Manchester would cover the expense of the project. The measures are expected to be temporary but the council would keep monitoring the feedback of the scheme.[13]

There are many other cities across the world that adopted footpath widening, their policy differs in shape and form due to local implementation constraints, but they all serve a common purpose to address safety issues, promote alternative transport patterns and help economic recovery.

Policy OutcomeEdit

The wave of space reallocation since COVID-19 outbreak in major cities is rather an emergent response policy issued by responsible government authorities, these schemes are implemented on an experimental basis, so they could be monitored and altered according to the feedback.

At the first stage of the outbreak, people were advised to avoid trips and public transport, which caused increased car use. The government later on promoted walking and cycling and conducted street space widening. But people react differently and measures in some areas are not very efficient. The usage of cycle lanes and pedestrian space didn’t reach the anticipated level, and meanwhile congestion occurred due to reduced road capacity. Therefore opposition to the policy arose. However, it is normal for people to take time in changing their travel pattern, especially during the special period. According to the Transport for London, the proportion of journeys taken by walking and cycling increased largely from 29% in March 2020 to 46% in June 2020; and car usage also arose from 38% to 45% during the period. This data was satisfactory to the Department of Transport in the UK, that they are planning to deliver a more similar scheme.[14]

In Feb 2021, Secretary of State for Transport announced a Traffic Management Act 2004, to urge local authorities to continue changing the road layouts to allow more space for walkers and cyclists, as the new wave of active travel has shown to improve well-being, mitigate congestion and improve air quality. [15]

Pop-up CyclewaysEdit

Policy MakingEdit

In Europe, the growth of cycle lanes during the pandemic was huge, especially in cities that were densely populated and had a higher share of side roads. A study that used 736 bicycle counters from 106 European cities were carried out, which combined these data to provide information on day-to-day kilometre (km) changes in bicycle travel in major European cities.[1] The analysis of the results in Figure 7 shows that within 4 months, an average of 11.5 km of provisional pop-up bike lanes were constructed in each city, with the introduction of this policy increasing cycling by 11% to 48% on average.

In Paris, for example, the transportation authorities rolled out 50 km of a planned 650 km bike lanes over just a few weeks, prioritising streets leading to hospitals, key health destinations and key transit routes.[16] In the city of Minneapolis, the United States, 11 miles of “Stay Healthy" Streets were constructed to support more space for active recreation, while maintaining social distancing.[16] In Berlin, 24 km of cycle lanes have been established since the start of the pandemic on main roads, with the intention of transitioning them to be permanent ones in the future.[17]

Policy OutcomeEdit

Transport authorities have been trying to boost the use of cycling and walking by investing a great amount of money in cycling strategies and programs for a long time. As a result, the effect of pop-up cycle lanes on the percentage of people who use cycling as a mode of transport has been immense. Figure 8 shows the difference in cycling in the months before and after the introduction of the pop-up bike lane policy in treated (cities that have enforced and implemented the bike lane policy) and control cities, with March of 2020 defined as the time of treatment for the treated cities.[1]

Due to the pandemic, both treated cities and control cities were expected to experience more cycling activities. As the pandemic lasts, it is expected that there will be an increase in cycling with the introduction of the policy, though to what extent is not clear. The above results shown in Figure 8 illustrate an increase in cycling of 41.6% as the policy was put in action. It is important to note that a crucial assumption made for this research was that cycling would have followed a parallel trend in both the treated and control groups before treatment was applied on the treated cities (the common trends assumption). The cycling rate would have grown at the same rate in both groups.

Policy IssuesEdit

For local governments, policies and regulations need to be modified to accomodate the sudden increase in pop-up cycle lanes. Firstly, changes need to be made to speed limits on the roads adjacent to the cycleways so that both street drivers and cyclers can feel safe when navigating and travelling on the new street environment.[18] Authorities that are concerned with the speed limit reduction must consider:

  • the area of the pop-up cycle lane,
  • how much physical separation is provided between the cycles and the road driver, and
  • who are the road users that are using the pop-up facilities (e.g., older generation and more experienced cyclers).

There will also need increased delegations for councils to approve pop-up cycle lanes in a faster process and ensuring the installation and operation are complying with the delegations. There may need changes to signalised intersections as well. If one has a speed limit of 40 km per hour for cycles, then separation may be provided to widen the cycle lanes. Measures that can be considered include bollards, cones and planters, which can act as separations and help create the new "pop-up" lanes.


Footpath WideningEdit

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, there has been a wave of implementing road space reallocation in many cities across the world. It was mostly introduced to help people maintaining social distancing, as well as promoting walking and cycling instead of public transit and car use. In order to continuously support the pedestrians and cyclists, infrastructure have to improve to make people feel safe and confident during the daily routine, and meanwhile following the guideline. Measures include making some street one-way only or removing street parking to allow space for footpath widening; using roadblocks to pedestrianise the whole street; widening space at bus stops and public transit hubs. After one-year implementation of the project, many city authorities have expressed satisfaction towards the outcome, some of the measures are being planned as a long term policy to promote less car use and more pedestrianised street.

Pop-up CyclewaysEdit

Besides widening footpath, many local and state transport authorities around the world are in favour of introducing pop-up cycle lanes during the pandemic. Sydney transport authorities have introduced more than a handful of pop-up cycleways, with some major ones having greatly benefited the local area.[19]

The first example is in Pyrmont Bridge, which provides a link between the city and Inner West Sydney, starting from Forest Lodge (Corner Lyons and Bridge roads) and ending in Pyrmont (Corner Pyrmont Bridge Road and Wattle Street) with a total length of 1.9 km. It provides access to important infrastructure like health care services (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital) and educational institutions such as Sydney Secondary College's Blackwattle Bay Campus and the University of Sydney.[19] This pop-up cycle lane is ought to be a safer alternative than bus travel during the pandemic. To build the protected bicycle lanes, the kerbside lane will be designated with painted lines, divider barriers and posts. Unfortunately, a total of 83 parking spots have been removed with 39 in the northern side and 44 in the southern side until a permanent solution is found.

Another example of pop-up cycleways is provided in Dunning Avenue, London, with the aim of providing a safer alternative than bus travel as well.

A third one is the new cycleway that has opened on the Sydney Park Road that connects high-density residential areas in Alexandria, where a 2-way cycle lane will be temporarily built that is transitioned to existing paths. A new pedestrian crossing with traffic signals was also installed so that residents can safely travel from their home to Sydney Park, the Sydney Park cycling centre and skate park. Some of the park spaces have also been changed to all-day timed unmetered parking.[19]

There is also a cycleway found in Moore Park that connects the Randwick, Bondi Junction and Moore Park cycling routes together, which forms an important travel link between the eastern suburbs and the city centre. This cycle way is expected to reduce the volume of bus travel and increase the number of people who walk and cycle. One of the major lanes have been converted into a 2-way cycle lane and a few streets were transitioned into a shared path, allowing people to both walk and cycle on that lane. One of the bus lanes was removed and around 188 parking spots have also been removed.[19]

Two other main pop-up cycleways have been installed in Sydney include the one in Pitt Street and one in Ashmore to South Eveleigh. The introduction of those pop-up cycleways has created new spaces for people to ride between healthcare services, educational institutions, workplaces and the city centre. The objective is to reduce congestion on public transport and encourage more people to use more environmentally-friendly alternatives than using their private cars.

There are often knock-on effects when such large-scale schemes are implemented in a short period of time. In the beginning of the lockdown, people were advised to travel by car rather than public transport. As the implementation of the cycle lanes meant that some of the road space was allocated to them, then this would have caused more congestion or convolution. It is important to note that other transport modes are not always applicable for all situations; thus, cars and motorised vehicles are still needed for some daily activities. It is also recommended that more consultation regarding the placement (where and how they are placed) of these pop-up cycleways is needed. Other arguments include that in some areas there was lower-than-anticipated usage of the new cycle lanes and they mainly benefited people of privileged backgrounds.

Furthermore, there was already a bicycle boom in 1970 in the US, one of the biggest waves of bicycle popularity, which was regarded the ‘solution to a whole galaxy of urban ills'.[20] However, as shown in Figure 8, the bicycle boom did not continue. Though studies have investigated that this might be due to the poor-quality imports and environmentalists opposition, and safety concerns, it is not clear why a similar bloom could not occur again.[20]

Discussion QuestionsEdit

  • What are the effects of pop-up bike lines with respect to bike lane network connectivity and the treatment of intersections?
  • How can low socioeconomic groups be included in this initiative and what are the barriers (political, cultural and economic) that they might face? What could be done to include them (changes in prices, the availability of bikes and parking spaces)?
  • How did Covid 19 affected the communities?

Further Reading MaterialsEdit

  • NSW Government to invest in walking and cycling [1]
  • Methods to Prioritise Pop-up Active Transport Infrastructure[2]
  • Re-allocating road space to make walking and cycling safer[3]
  • Pop-Up Coronavirus Cycleways Deliver $3 Billion In Annual Health Benefits Across Europe[4]
  • How cities are fighting the pandemic by embracing the outdoors[5]
  • How COVID-19 could reshape city design[6]
  • European Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans Briefing on COVID-19[7]
  • Video about the Sydney Park Road pop-up cycleway [8]


  1. a b c Kraus, S., & Koch, N. (2021). Provisional COVID-19 infrastructure induces large, rapid increases in cycling. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(15).
  3. NSW Government. (2021). NSW Budget 2020-21 | Latest NSW Budget. Retrieved from
  4. Climate Change Authority. Opportunities to reduce light vehicle emissions in Australia. Retrieved from
  5. Guterres, A. (2020). Carbon Neutrality by 2050: theWorld’s Most Urgent Mission. Retrieved from’s-most-urgent-mission.
  6. Transport for NSW. (2020). Walking and Cycling Program. Retrieved from
  7. YCK Laneways. (2021). Retrieved from
  8. Transport for NSW. (2020). Sydney's new pop-up cycleways help you ride to work. Retrieved from
  9. Transport Department of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. (2021). Transport Department - Pedestrianisation. Retrieved from
  10. Power, J. (2020). Covid-19: Councils to receive funding to widen footpaths. Retrieved from
  11. Sheffield City Council. (2020). Covid-19: Temporary changes to footpaths and highways. Retrieved from
  12. Thompson, A. (2020). More cycleways, streets to shut, footpaths widened under NSW's COVID-19 plan. Retrieved from
  13. Manchester City Council. (2021). Social distancing measures | Footpath widening for social distancing | Manchester City Council. Retrieved from
  14. Brown, N. (2021). Covid road space reallocation - success and failures. Retrieved 25 April 2021, from
  15. Department for Transport. (2021). Traffic Management Act 2004: network management in response to COVID-19. Retrieved from
  16. a b NACTOS. (2021). Global Designing Cities Initiative. Retrieved from
  17. Nikitas, A., Tsigdinos, S., Karolemeas, C., Kourmpa, E. & Bakogiannis, E. (2021). Cycling in the Era of COVID-19: Lessons Learnt and Best Practice Policy Recommendations for a More Bike-Centric Future. Sustainability 2021, 13, 4620. https://
  18. Transport for NSW. (2021). Pop-up Transport. Retrieved from
  19. a b c d City of Sydney.(2021). Creating pop-up cycleways in Sydney. Retrieved from
  20. a b Bicycle Institute of America. Period graph showing the rise and fall of bicycle sales in the 1970s. Retrieved from